The U.S. cow herd must grow if the industry is going to preserve existing infrastructure and regain lost market share.

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1 Rabo AgFocus - January 2015 AgFocus Rabobank Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory Don Close Outside In Confined Cow-calf Production is a Viable Model for The U.S. cow herd must grow if the industry is going to preserve existing infrastructure and regain lost market share. Current market conditions are incentivizing expansion in all cow-calf production models, and we expect to see a strong increase in the adoption of more intensive confinement breeding systems. Contents Introduction 1 Turning Around the Decline in Cow 1 A Solution to Keep Farmers and Feeders in the Business 5 Conclusion 8 The three big constraints to expanding cow-calf production are high capital barriers, declining availability of grazable acres, and ageing producers. The two most applicable production models are converting existing excess feed yard pen space and aligning confinement buildings with conventional row crop producers. Confined production can help accelerate the rebuilding of the U.S. cow herd and feeder cattle supply, while also offering younger cattle industry entrepreneurs a start in the business. Introduction Cow-calf producers across the U.S. are feeling pressure from the markets and industry to expand and expand quickly. The market is right: the weather is improving, and many are starting the process of rebuilding and even expanding herds. However, drought still prohibits rebuilding in some areas, and a 32 million-acre decline in pasture availability over the last ten years is hindering expansion and causing producers to weigh options that require less land. More innovation is paramount to the growth of the U.S. cattle sector. While the key method of U.S. calf production will remain the traditional cow-calf grazing model, a significant part of the expansion will need to incorporate systems for confined calf production. This is due to reduced availability to grass acres and prohibitive competition to purchase or rent pasture. Limited access to capital is also preventing many younger producers from entering the cow business. An alternative production model that reduces initial capital requirements is needed to change that. Confined production systems present an alternative that replaces high capital requirements with intensified management and labor. Rabobank s economic evaluation shows that two systems confined calf production in excess feed yard space and in confinement buildings that are typically built in the Corn Belt are very competitive compared to conventional production models. Turning around the decline in cow numbers U.S beef cow inventory has consistently declined since its 1974 peak, as consumer preferences changed and per capita beef consumption began its uninterrupted slide. At the same time, the industry was forced to do more with less, and the feedlot model helped to boost productivity, which allowed the industry to produce the same quantity of beef from an ever-declining breeding base. The cow herd decline accelerated from 2007 to 2012, due to the recession and the impact of higher feeding costs on cattle industry economics as a result of ethanol policy, as well as historic droughts in many cow-calf producing regions in North America. As a result, feeder cattle supplies have been extremely tight, and beef cow inventory in particular has suffered. The subsequent impact was felt across the beef Page 1/8 Rabo AgFocus - January 2015

2 industry, as the number of cattle in the system fell below the level needed to support the existing infrastructure and prompted feed yards and processing facilities to close. Beef cow inventory is the foundation on which the U.S. beef industry is built. Early indications suggest that 2014 saw a modest growth in cow numbers for the first time in years. Beef cow slaughter fell 18 percent, total cow slaughter declined 14 percent, and there was an 8 percent reduction in fed heifer slaughter, suggesting that cows are now being retained for breeding in greater numbers and that herd rebuilding is finally underway. The record price levels in 2014 are encouraging cow-calf operations around the U.S to begin the process of rebuilding herds to pre-drought levels, and, in some cases, operations are even expanding numbers. This expansion is the first step in rebuilding the U.S. beef industry to a point that can support the existing infrastructure. Once the confirmation of cow number recovery is announced in early 2015, Rabobank estimates a 2 percent growth rate in the January 2016 inventory report, based on historical comparisons (see Figure 1). Figure 1: Cow herd expansion is underway, head 47,500 45,000 42,500 40,000 37,500 35,000 32,500 30,000 27,500 25,000 Beef Cow Inventory Projections Source: Rabobank, USDA-NASS, 2014 Over the medium term, industry rebuilding will depend on the ability of U.S. cow-calf producers to expand their herds. For those producers who wish to embark on herd expansion, success depends on three variables: profitability, improving weather conditions, and available land. The outlook for the first two variables appears positive: profitability appears secure for the cow-calf sector, at least for the next few years, and pasture and range conditions seem to have vastly improved in most parts of the country, except in California, Nevada and North Texas. But the availability of suitable breeding land is a more complicated variable involving many factors, Mother Nature not least among them. Over the last ten years, the U.S. has seen a 6.3 percent reduction in grazable acres (see Figure 2). The USDA Census of Agriculture estimates that the U.S. lost, on average, 3 million acres of grazing land a year between the 2002 Census and 2012 Census. That loss has been driven by expansion of row crops, urban sprawl, high-fence recreational programs, restricted Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grazing, and even maintenance for BLM horses. While there could be a slowdown in the rate of permanent pasture acres going into row crop, the rate of pasture conversion from other sources shows no signs of slowing at all. If cow numbers are going to increase, by 3 million head to 4 million head despite the simultaneous decline in the number of grazable acres, alternative production models will be required. It is this shift in thinking that has positioned confinement and semi-confinement as a valuable way of expanding cattle numbers in the U.S. Page 2/8 Rabo AgFocus - January 2015

3 Figure 2: Census shows reduction in grazing acres, 2002 vs vs million pasture acres Permanent Pasture Woodland Pasture Crop Land for Pasture Source: USDA-NASS, 2014 Models of confined cow-calf production: The implementation of confined and semi-confined cow-calf production programs varies broadly, and no single definition fits all. The two most prevalent production models in the U.S. seem to be adaptation of excess feed yard space and confinement buildings in the Corn Belt. Model 1: feed yards The first production model in use today revolves around utilizing a portion of the excess pen space that currently exists in feed yards. This model divides total bunk space to allow 3 feet per cow and calf. This both eliminates crowding and allows space for calves. Some modifications to the existing facilities using this model are required to enhance calf health and well-being, such as lower bunk and water access for calves, a separate area for bedding and shade, and creep gates or other fence spacing to allow a safe zone for calves that is inaccessible to cows. This separate area gives calves a shady place in which to lie down and rest without the risk of being stepped on. An alternative in the feed yard model is to build calf-accessible creep gates that allow calves a completely separate open area. With the current excess pen space, these production units can vary in size, from several hundred cows on the low end to larger units of 3,000 cows to 5,000 cows. A primary benefit of converting existing feed yard space to cow-calf confinement is that it enables facilities to use existing structures with minimal modifications, while allowing the feed yard to remain a viable entity and sidestep the extreme competition for feeder cattle. Model 2: confinement buildings The most prevalent confinement production model is the use of buildings either linear slant buildings or hoop barns. Hoop barns are especially popular for this method of production because of their cost, efficiency, and air flow dynamics. A common size for the hoop structures is 48 feet wide by 320 feet long. This model typically allows 2 feet of bunk space per cow and can accommodate 150 to 160 cows per unit. When using the confinement buildings production model, it is common to build several units in successive rows to increase head count. Besides providing protection from weather, linear slant buildings and hoop barns provide an extra advantage when it comes to enhancing feed sources on the farm. Consequently, these buildings and housing methods for confined cow production are most widely used in the Corn Belt. Besides being close to intensive row crop production, Corn Belt confinement growers have good regional access to wet DDGs, corn stocks, and other low-cost forage sources. Confinement buildings appear to be the most popular model of confined and semi-confined cow-calf production. The model allows farmers with limited land resources to enhance farm income by generating additional revenue from existing resources. A complimentary aspect of the addition of confined feeding to a conventional row crop farm is that the cattle Page 3/8 Rabo AgFocus - January 2015

4 operation gains income credit for the value of the manure. Financial savings for the cattle/farm enterprise can be gained by reducing or, in some cases, even eliminating the purchase of commercial fertilizer and passing the credit back into the cattle operation. Impact: why this can work Driving increased efficiency from the cow herd is what makes the confined and semiconfined programs a viable solution to the expansion challenges many cattle operations face. A confined or semi-confined intensive management system allows the operator to tailor feeding programs to the different stages of the animal production cycle. Producers can adjust feeding programs to suit the nutritional and energy needs of cows per trimester of pregnancy, as well as the phases of post-calving and nursing. Additional efficiencies are achieved through the ability to sort cows by their body condition scores and to then adjust feed requirements by groups. This is an option that isn t particularly viable with open grazing. By actively incorporating a consulting bovine nutritionist for ration formulations and nutrition balancing, producers are able to diligently and continually make feed intake adjustments. These adjustments and management systems don t just benefit the animal, but also the financial health of the operation. Programs that are currently using confined, limited feeding state that feed requirements can be reduced by 10 to 20 percent, depending on where the cow is in the reproduction cycle. The system also appears to offer additional benefits to supply chain partners looking for certain production traits and qualities attributed to the calf crop. A confined system offers opportunities to better manage high-quality calf programs that target specific premium end markets, reducing inefficiencies that exist in the current model and achieving productivity gains through better cow management, artificial breeding, and stock selection for end markets. Under ideal conditions, cows are confined through the majority of their breeding and gestation periods and are then turned out for a 30-day to 90-day calving and calf acclimation period. Upon completion of the acclimation period, the cow-calf pairs or weaned cows return to confinement. For spring calving cows, particularly in the Corn Belt, calving is often delayed until the May/June window in order to avoid scheduling conflicts with the farm s planting season. In other cases, calving is moved to fall so cows can calve while grazing seasonal corn stalks. Enhancing cow health and animal welfare outcomes While a great deal of research is still needed on the implications of a move to confined production for breeding, what limited research there is suggests that cow health can be improved and reproductive life extended. Reduced environmental stress, more complete balancing of the cow s nutritional requirements on a daily basis, and ready access to cows for improved animal health management regimes clearly offers the potential for improved herd health outcomes and overall productivity gains. While both natural and AI breeding programs are used in confinement programs, the containment of cows facilitates implementation of accelerated AI programs to achieve higher herd productivity. Conception rates and live calf rates under confined production models are also at or above conventional levels because the nutritional requirements of cows can be met consistently throughout the year. Calf health also enhanced in confinement models Many of the confined cow programs that are in existence today were initiated in the South Plains during the severe drought period of This expanded in 2012 to include major production areas. Initially, the concept of calving or managing young calves inside a confined area of any kind seemed counterintuitive and generated a great deal of concern over calf health. But once a nursery or rest and retreat area for calves was established, concerns about the possibility of calf injury due to crowding were greatly reduced. One surprising outcome of the confined cow programs is that the prenatal health of the calves is now better than average, since the operations actively balance the cows nutritional requirements. In this scenario, calf health in the confined calf crop is, in most cases, exceptional. Calves raised within a confined feeding environment actually start eating and drinking water at an earlier age than conventional pasture-raised calves. This makes weaning, and even Page 4/8 Rabo AgFocus - January 2015

5 early weaning, substantially less stressful on the calves. Finally, confined calves do not have the stress that conventionally raised pasture calves have when they are introduced into the feed yard. Because the confined calves have already adjusted to the noise and conditions of confinement, their adaptability and feed yard performance is often superior to that of conventionally raised calves. A solution to keep farmers and feeders in the business In the U.S. today, one of the most frequently cited barriers to entering the cow business is the high cost of entry. Cow replacement costs are extraordinary, and high land costs are prohibitive. One frequently cited limitation to expansion by existing and entry-level cow owners is the difficulty of finding pasture for sale or for lease at an acceptable price within a reasonable proximity to their existing home or operation. USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture data shows that the average age of U.S. farmers is 58, and the demographic distribution projects the average age to soon exceed 60. A significant percentage of cow owners have reached, or are approaching, retirement age. Current cattle prices may encourage those considering retirement to proceed with liquidation. In spite of exceptional returns, a high price for replacement cows or heifers is daunting and is often a limiting factor for growth. These factors may cause changes in land ownership, but still make entry into the business very difficult. The barriers to entry are just too high, but a confined or semi-confined cow unit could be a path to entry for many young producers. Confined or semi-confined cow units are especially attractive for conventional row crop farmers in the Corn Belt who have family members that want to return to the family farm. The challenge isn t a new one. How does a farm generate enough income from an established, often land-limited farming operation to generate enough additional revenue for a second income? The addition of a confined cow-calf production unit and the ability to gain greater value from the forage production of the farm may be a viable part of the solution. Traditional breeding most economical, but confinement also offers good returns Record feeder cattle prices in 2014 have taken the return per cow to historically unprecedented levels in excess of USD 500/head. Without a doubt, market signals are encouraging cow-calf producers to expand, as well as inviting new entrants into the market. In January 2014, the beef cow herd was estimated at 29 million cows, and that number is expected to increase marginally for January In order to support the existing U.S. beef production infrastructure, Rabobank believes that beef cow numbers need to increase, from between 32 million head to 34 million head over the next few years. Previously, the most aggressive annual rate of rebuilding was just over 5 percent. This occurred in the early 1970s, when total beef cow numbers were between 40 million head to 45 million head. Since that peak in numbers, the annual percentage increase has seldom exceeded 1 percent to 2 percent. In the current circumstances, we expect the herd recovery to take a number of years, so returns to cow-calf production will remain elevated for several years. In a simple cost-of-production benchmarking analysis to help estimate the viability of newer confinement models, two things stand out (see Figure 3). First, breakeven costs per calf are very competitive between geographic regions and production models. Second, all production models offer excellent profit opportunities in the current market environment. In building these benchmarks, a few key assumptions were made. First, we assumed a difference in cow prices by region to reflect market differences. Second, we budgeted for an additional 1 to 2 calves over the life of a cow for cows under the confinement model, to reflect the improved environmental and management conditions. Finally, we assumed that the confined operations would have a 2 percent weaning percentage over a traditional cowcalf system due to nutrition balancing, improved prenatal health of calves, and intensified management. All breakeven calculations were based on a 550 lb early weaned calf, despite the fact that the number of days to weaning differs between confined and conventional production models. Feed costs in the model are based on regional grazing rates and pasture rent between geographic regions. Confined cow feed costs were based on USD 1.00/head/day on corn stalks and USD 1.75/head/day in confinement. Based on comments from producers, the Page 5/8 Rabo AgFocus - January 2015

6 USD 1.75/head/day may be higher than current feed costs, but allows some room for the movement of feed prices. Figure 3: Comparative production cost South Plains North Plains North Plains Confinement Confinement Conventional Conventional Semiconfinement Older cow Young cow Cow cost 3, , , , , Number of calves Cull cow value 1, , , , , Depreciation Annual grazing cost Annual feed cost Bull cost/calf Interest (5% USD) Vet cost/calf , , , , , Calves/100 cows exposed Cost/calf 1, , , , , B/E for 550# calf day weaning cost Cost per calf 1, , , , , B/E for 625# weaned calf Estimated calf prices 550 calf price, high 550 calf price, midrange 550 calf price, base Revenue per cow per year High price Mid-range price Base price Source: Rabobank, 2015 Even returns in worst-case price expectation would benefit producers By using the long-term monthly price series for 400 lb to 500 lb calves in Oklahoma City, a high price scenario was based on the calf price holding at or near the current record price level of USD 3.50/lb and allowed for additional price records to be accomplished. The midrange price scenario was based on a 38 percent to 50 percent retracement, and the base price scenario was based on prices retracing to levels seen prior to the 2014 rally. Page 6/8 Rabo AgFocus - January 2015

7 Price projections were determined by price histories with standard retracement levels, as well as considerations to the expected breakeven prices of a feeder steer and a fed steer, given the original calf breakeven (see Figure 4). Under the high price scenario, profits in all production models range from USD /head in conventional North Plains production to an astonishing USD /head with a confined older cow. While it is safe to say these returns aren t expected to be sustained, they were realized in The mid-range price scenario offers a range of returns of USD /head to USD /head. Based on the historical returns of less than USD /head, this is probably a much more realistic expectation and still provides phenomenal returns, historically speaking. The base price scenario provides a range of USD loss per head to a USD profit per head. This range of return certainly fits with the historical norms. However, there are two considerations to take into account. First, it gives a worst-case scenario that still provides an economic logic to buying cows at the current prices. It also shows that, under the worst-case scenario, returns are not so bad as to force producers out of business. Figure 4: 2014 price advance makes all production models profitable, Jan 2010-Nov 2014 CWT 400 Oklahoma City medium and large frame 400 to 500 pound steers Jan-10 Mar-10 May-10 Jul-10 Sep-10 Nov-10 Jan-11 Mar-11 May-11 Jul-11 Sep-11 Nov-11 Jan-12 Mar-12 May-12 Jul-12 Sep-12 Nov-12 Jan-13 Mar-13 May-13 Jul-13 Sep-13 Nov-13 Jan-14 Mar-14 May-14 Jul-14 Sep-14 Nov-14 Jan-15 Mar-15 May-15 Source: USDA-AMS, 2015 Figure 5: Estimated average cow-calf returns, f USD/cow Source: LMIC, 2014 Page 7/8 Rabo AgFocus - January 2015

8 Consideration of sustainability Given the current business environment of the cattle and beef industry, any evaluation of an alternative business model would not be complete without going through a sustainability checklist. That checklist of principles as defined by the Global Roundtable on Sustainable Beef includes the responsible use of natural resources; people and community wellbeing; animal health; food and efficiencies; and innovation. The Rabobank evaluation supports those criteria, and confined cow production meets these criteria. Nonetheless, more intensive production undoubtedly implies additional risk and the need for more hands-on management. Conclusion Increased efficiency from the cow herd and healthier animals is what makes the confined and semi-confined programs viable and valuable. The ability to adjust the nutritional needs of the cow to the pregnancy/post-calving stage, and the ability to sort cows and adjust feed requirements based on their body condition scores isn t an option with open grazing. Making these adjustments with the counsel of a bovine nutritionist is proving effective in confinement and semi-confinement models. Operations currently using a confined feeding program are showing a 10 percent to 20 percent reduction in feed requirements, depending on where the cow is in the reproduction cycle. This increase in efficiency is an important step in the effort to keep cattle operations as competitive as possible in the changing domestic and international markets. The unparalleled price advance in all classes of cattle and beef in 2014 is a paradigm shift that will take a number of years to fully understand. However, there are a number of developments that are going to reshape the cattle and beef industries in years to come. That list includes a steadily eroding acreage base for natural forage and grass, the unprecedented growth in export developments (especially in China and the Pacific Rim), and escalating GDP growth in a number of developing countries which is increasing the demand for all animal proteins. The global population is expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, and we are realizing that only select regions of the world are suitable for beef production. The growth in demand for beef is inevitable, and measures must be taken now to meet that anticipated demand. These measures must consider limited and shrinking availability of land for grazing, and how to use more efficient and sustainable models to produce more beef. These models will be the key to keeping beef a competitive protein in our growing world and the key to enabling a new generation of beef producers to continue a legacy. This document is issued by Coöperatieve Centrale Raiffeisen-Boerenleenbank B.A. incorporated in the Netherlands, trading as Rabobank. The information and opinions contained in this document have been compiled or arrived at from sources believed to be reliable, but no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made as to their accuracy, completeness or correctness. This document is for information purposes only and is not, and should not be construed as, an offer or a commitment by Rabobank or any of its affiliates to enter into a transaction, nor is it professional advice. This information is general in nature only and does not take into account an individual s personal circumstances. All opinions expressed in this document are subject to change without notice. Neither Rabobank, nor other legal entities in the group to which it belongs, accept any liability whatsoever for any loss howsoever arising from any use of this document or its contents or otherwise arising in connection therewith. This document may not be reproduced, distributed or published, in whole or in part, for any purpose, except with the prior written consent of Rabobank. All copyrights, including those within the meaning of the Dutch Copyright Act, are reserved. Dutch law shall apply. By accepting this document you agree to be bound by the foregoing restrictions. Rabobank Utrecht Branch, Croeselaan 18, 3521 CB, Utrecht, The Netherlands This report has been published in line with Rabobank s long-term commitment to international food and agribusiness. It is one of a series of publications undertaken by the global department of Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory All Rights Reserved. Page 8/8 Rabo AgFocus - January 2015

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